JuJu Smith-Schuster opened his second season in the NFL putting up three consecutive 100-yard games, totaling 356 yards in those games on 27 receptions, having seemingly become Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense.
That was followed by a string of two games in which he only caught four passes in each for a combined 94 yards, including just 34 receiving yards last week against the Atlanta Falcons. Earlier today, he got off to a rough start, failing to come up with a big catch on a deep pass and then dropping a ball, but was able to overcome it all when it mattered most.
He finished as the leading receiver on both sidelines, catching a total of seven passes for 111 yards, and that included some big plays in critical spots. For a 21-year-old, he has displayed the sort of mentality and composure necessary to overcome early mistakes to continue to be an effective contributor.
After the Cincinnati Bengals scored first, the Steelers began driving, getting to the Bengals’ 19-yard line before a holding penalty sent them backward. It was Smith-Schuster who came up with a big 22-yard reception on second and 21 to keep things going. James Conner punched it in to tie the game two plays later.
You may start to notice a theme, because his second reception of the day came on third and six from the Bengals’ 30-yard line with two minutes to play in the half. He went over the top of Darqueze Dennard, literally making the reception around the cornerback’s head, and it was his own helmet that left him down by contact at the one-yard line, preventing him from notching a score. Conner would add another touchdown on the following play.
Then at the end of the game, Roethlisberger connected with the second-year wide receiver on a 23-yard pass from the Steelers’ own 46-yard line with 22 seconds to go. It was on the very next play that Antonio Brown took a short inside screen pass 31 yards for the go-ahead score.
To top it all off, with the team needing a two-point conversion to make it a seven-point game with 10 second remaining, it was Smith-Schuster who caught the pass to give them the 28-21 edge. Considering that he started off the game with what might as well have been two dropped passes, he certainly rebounded well.
Not to mention proving to be absolutely critical to the team’s offensive success, making three big plays that set up three touchdowns. In all, he had three catches for 41 yards on the game-winning drive. Oh, and he also recovered a Vance McDonald fumble on third down at the Bengals’ six-yard line to preserve a field goal attempt.